DISCLAIMER: I do not own The Last of Us.
Note: Another story I want to write for this game, this time starting from the Salt Lake City hospital (though I did change the ending). Let me know what you think!
Get On With It
"I'm comin', baby girl..." Joel whispered to himself as he broke into a light sprint to reach the end of the long hallway. Moonlight streamed in from the windows to his left, luminous streaks of silver that cut through the dim air of the hospital.
A metal door with signs all over it that pretty much told him to keep out unless he was authorized to enter stood in his way once he got there. For a brief moment he stopped, a rough and calloused left hand gripping the smooth metal handle of the door as a sudden wave of doubt came over him. In his right hand he held the cool steel grip of his revolver.
He had already killed over a dozen Fireflies to get up to the operating room without a second thought, and he knew that if he didn't go through with saving Ellie that not only would she die, but he would as well; the distant shouts of reinforcements were getting louder.
Yet he could not help but think: Was it right of him to go through with this?
On the one hand there was saving Ellie, and on the other there was a chance to save mankind from the Cordyceps epidemic. Once infected, a person was basically a walking corpse, losing their minds to the fungus within two days. With this operation there was a possibility of creating a vaccine, one that could save many of the dwindling numbers of humans who might get infected in the future. If he were to save Ellie, he would be taking away mankind's best hope at finding a vaccine against the deadly fungus that had destroyed it.
Another question: Was it wrong of him to save her?
Before all of this, before Ellie and this journey across the country, he had been an empty husk of the man he once was. In the twenty years since the world ended, he had forgotten what it was like to feel anything beyond anger and indifference. Surviving was difficult enough on its own. Finding a reason to survive in the ruins of what used to be was even harder.
Everything that he knew was, if not gone, a pale shadow of its former self. What made it worse was that everywhere he turned he was reminded of the ghosts of the past. He had not lied to Ellie when he told her that she had no idea what loss really was, at least not to the full extent that he did. Not only did the world he had always known burn and break down in bloody chaos all around him, but he had also lost what he considered to be the most precious thing on earth to him: Sarah. Nothing could prepare someone for the gravity of such losses, and for a time after his daughter's passing he welcomed death, eager for his turn. But it never came.
Now that he had Ellie, he had a second chance. An opportunity to start fresh and live a new life. They had survived all the horrors that this broken world had thrown at them for the last year, and the young girl had grown on him. With all that they had been through and experienced in the past year, it was clear to Joel that what remained of humanity wasn't worth saving.
Between the oppressive military, the zealous Fireflies, and the vile Hunters, much of the remnants of mankind wasn't worth Ellie's life. And it wasn't even a cure that they were working towards, but a vaccine; the Infected humans would not be saved, and the uninfected could still die if the Infected ripped them apart. Then there was the glaring fact that there was no guarantee that they could even reverse-engineer a vaccine, meaning that there was a chance that her death would turn out to be pointless.
No. He was not going to lose his baby girl again.
A heavy banging sound from behind him echoed down the hall and he cursed under his breath. He had wasted enough time thinking. Fireflies were trying to break through the barricaded door; they were almost here.
Opening the door, he found himself in a surgery clean room and crossed quickly to the other door that led into the operating room, the muffled voices of the surgical team through the dirt-covered windows between the rooms made him grip his revolver tighter. Their shadows could be seen through the windows as they prepped for the surgery. Bursting into the operating room, he startled the three-member surgical team who jumped back from the motionless girl lying on the operating table in the middle of the room.
"Sweet Jesus," said the doctor farthest away from him as he stepped further back.
The doctor closest to him stepped closer to the operating table, the nurse to the far right of Joel nervously said to him, "Doctor?"
"What are you doing in here?" asked the doctor closest to him. His eyes finally caught sight of the gun that Joel was holding at his side and the realization dawned on him that he was not part of the Fireflies. When Joel took a step closer the doctor turned and grabbed a scalpel, holding it up defiantly at the intruder. "I won't let you take her."
Joel took another step forward, his eyes drifting over to the unconscious Ellie. His heart was racing and he started to breathe quickly as relief flooded through his body. She was okay. He was not too late. They hadn't started yet. Looking back at the doctor pointing the scalpel at him, he figured that this must be the head surgeon, and his anger began to flare.
"Don't! Don't come any closer," the man warned, his voice shaking a little.
In one swift move Joel closed the gap between them, grabbed the doctor's wrist in an iron grip, and slammed the butt of his revolver into the doctor's face. Blood squirted as the doctor's nose broke with an audible crunch and he fell into a cart of medical equipment, sending it crashing to the ground. The doctor turned onto his back and clutched at his nose, in obvious pain.
"Do you... do you have any idea... how valuable she is?" the doctor asked, in between coughing from the blood that had leaked into his mouth.
Joel stared at him. "I do." Then he aimed the revolver and put a bullet through the man's skull, the bang startling the other doctor and the nurse, who began to sob.
"You fucking animal!" cried the nurse, cowering in the corner.
"Carrie, shut the hell up!" said the remaining doctor as he pressed his back into the wall to make sure he got out of the way, making it clear that he was not going to do anything.
Still, Joel turned to him, revolver rising.
The doctor raised a hand towards him. "Wait! Please! I know of another another way!"
The revolver was still aimed at him, but Joel didn't pull the trigger just yet. What did he mean there was another way?
"I told him," the doctor glanced at his fallen colleague, "I told him that we didn't have to kill her, but he wouldn't listen."
"Explain," Joel said gruffly, lowering the revolver a few degrees so that it didn't point directly at the doctor. There was another option!
"It's a much slower process, but it can be done without killing her," replied the doctor. "Look. If you let me live, I can help you. I can help her."
Joel slowly transferred the revolver to his left hand as he turned away and finally began to unplug Ellie from the machines, carefully pulling off her oxygen mask and plucking out the IV that was stuck into her left arm. Placing his arms underneath her, he lifted her small frame up, her head resting on his shoulder before rolling down his arm and resting in the crook of his elbow. For a brief moment he flashed back to when he was carrying Sarah over twenty years ago, and he held Ellie closer.
"C'mon, baby girl. I gotcha. I gotcha," he whispered, suddenly getting emotional from the memories that came back to him. Except this time it would be different, he thought to himself.
"Where are you headed?" asked the doctor, "I'll need time to get my things and get away from the Fireflies."
Joel looked at him with doubt, hesitating for a heartbeat before saying, "I'm going north. Can you make it out there by yourself?"
The doctor shook his head, "Don't worry about me. Let's meet north of the city then. There's a town called Logan about an hour away from here. Meet me at the Medical Center, it's near the city center. Can't miss it."
"Are there Infected?"
"There's always Infected."
"How about Fireflies?"
The doctor shook his head. "No. We don't have the manpower to have people there."
A loud crash suddenly came from the open door that Joel had burst through. The Fireflies had finally broken through the barricade; they would take only a few seconds to get to the operating room.
"Oh shit," Joel breathed as he turned to the only other door in the room. It led into another hallway and he moved away quickly, eyes constantly searching for a way out.
Behind him, he heard the nurse loudly say, her voice cracking, "He's carrying her into pediatrics! Hurry!" The doctor yelled something angrily that he could not quite make out.
"Ah shit." He really needed to get the hell out of there. Fighting them off was not an option - there were too many and Ellie was unconscious. "I'm getting you out of here, baby girl," he whispered, more for himself than for the girl to hear.
Someone pulled the fire alarm because it began wailing, the sound piercing and persistent, lights flashing throughout the hospital.
"C'mon, c'mon..." he said through gritted teeth as he maneuvered around the halls, weaving in and out of rooms as flashlights casting light behind him were accompanied by urgent voices and the sound of several footsteps.
"I see him!" yelled someone, a few shots were fired, making Joel duck and grip Ellie tightly, but thankfully the bullets went wide.
Rounding a corner, he spotted an elevator open and ready and he walked as fast as he could towards it. For a split second he wondered why the elevator was working during a fire alarm, but then he realized that patients in their beds would not be able to go down the stairs to be evacuated during a fire so that was most likely the reason why these elevators were still working. The elevator was big enough for three rolling beds to be brought in, which served to confirm his thoughts.
More gunshots reverberated around him as the bullets pinged into the walls and even into the elevator, missing him by a few inches and causing him to jerk down a little. Ellie nearly fell from his hands but he shifted her up again, securing her.
The voices of the pursuing Fireflies sounded panicked and angry, realizing that he was about to get away with the girl. They stopped firing when he turned around and pressed the button to go all the way down to the parking garage below the hospital, since Ellie was in front of him now and they didn't want to risk killing her. They ran towards the elevator instead, and for a moment Joel thought they might make it through and they would be done for, but the doors closed on them in the nick of time.
Safe. "Oh god," Joel let out a breath he didn't realize he had been holding as he staggered backwards, leaning against the rear wall of the elevator as it made its way to the bowels of the hospital. That was too damn close.
He looked down at the young girl in his arms. She looked so peaceful, so blissfully unaware of all that was happening around her.
Stepping towards the doors as the elevator pinged to signal their arrival at P2, he hoped that there would be a working car somewhere down here. The doors slid open and Joel pressed the 'Emergency Stop' button on the panel, effectively shutting down the elevator until someone pressed it again. Outside the elevator he noted that there was one car parked about twenty feet ahead, and it looked like it was in working order. He headed for it.
"You can't save her."
Joel froze, eyes widening slightly and he took a couple of steps back. He turned and faced the leader of the Fireflies, fear gripping his insides as a light overhead illuminated the woman's hardened features. Marlene was pointing her pistol at him, and he knew that she could have killed him already. So why didn't she?
"Even if you get her out of here, then what? How long before she's torn to pieces by a pack of Clickers?" she paused for effect. "That is, if she hasn't been raped or murdered first."
He would never let any of those things happen to her. Ellie was slipping from his arms and he readjusted his hold again. "That ain't for you to decide," he replied in a low tone.
"It's what she'd want," she continued, her voice hard. "And you know it."
Joel looked down in silence, suddenly unable to meet her gaze. If Ellie was awake, if she listened to what Marlene had to say, he knew that she would probably agree to go through with it. The woman was right that Ellie would probably want to sacrifice herself for this. But Marlene never even asked her. She simply assumed that the young girl would want to, and the doctors rushed to prep her for surgery without once waking the girl. No one actually asked her. That alone was enough to convince him that in the off chance that she refused, they would have done it anyway.
Besides, there was another option now. One that would satisfy both Ellie's need to do something with her immunity and his own need to keep her with him. Did Marlene even know about this other option? Probably not, though it didn't matter since he wouldn't trust her after what she had already done, what she had been prepared to do.
"Look," Marlene finally said, "You can still do the right thing here." She turned the pistol up a little and slowly moved her hands up and to the sides to show him that she had no intentions of shooting him. "She won't feel anything," she added, as if that made it any better.
This was completely unexpected, and he studied her face, wondering what the hell she was trying to accomplish. Did she really think he was just going to hand Ellie over, that she was going to convince him to give her up? She should have shot him when she had the chance.
Marlene moved closer, arms still raised and pistol pointed away, and Joel shifted around so that he could aim the revolver in his left hand at the advancing woman.
Marlene looked down at the gun that she had failed to see earlier, and just as her eyes shone with fear Joel pulled the trigger.
The .357 caliber bullet tore through Marlene's abdomen, causing her to yelp in pain and inhale as she clutched at her already blood-soaked stomach. The pistol fell from her hand and Joel kicked it away, the gun sliding about ten feet across the cement floor. She fell to her knees, breathing rapidly, before she fell forward, one arm shooting out and bracing herself so that her face didn't hit the pavement while her other hand pressed down on her bullet wound. Grimacing and hissing, she struggled to breathe.
Joel went to the car and gently placed Ellie in the backseat. Then he returned to Marlene, blood pooling into a puddle underneath her, but still she was not completely down yet. In fact, she had managed to start crawling towards the elevator, judging from the streaks of blood around and particularly behind her. She was a tough one, Joel had to admit.
Noticing he had come back for her, she used the hand that was pressing on her wound and held it up to him, blood trailing down her outstretched arm and dripping from her fingers. "Wait!" she cried, her voice laced with pain. "Let me go," she pleaded desperately,"Please!"
Joel saw the fear in her eyes, but he felt no remorse for what he was about to do. There would be no mercy.
"You'd just come after her."
The revolver boomed again, the shot reverberating across the cavernous lot with the finality of a judge hammering his gavel, verdict delivered.
Tall hills rose up on either side of the road as Joel continued to drive north, heading for the town of Logan. For the last hour he had been debating within himself whether to listen to that doctor or not. It was easy enough to not meet up with him and simply drive on back to Jackson where he could finally set up a new home for him and Ellie in Tommy's town. The doctor was a member of the Fireflies after all, and it wouldn't come as a surprise if it was simply a trap.
But what if what he was saying was true? What if there really was another way to create a cure?
He glanced in the rear view mirror to check if anyone was following them. Nothing. The Fireflies either had no idea where he was going or they did not attempt to pursue him. Or, maybe they were already there. With that doctor.
Joel frowned, realizing that he didn't even know the man's name. Glancing back into the rear view mirror, but this time at the sleeping figure of Ellie, he inhaled deeply and then let out a heavy sigh. Going straight back to Jackson meant he would have to tell Ellie a very big lie, and he didn't know how long that would last or if she would even believe it to begin with. He hadn't thought about it during his rampage through the hospital, and it wasn't until they had cleared the city limits that he realized he could not tell Ellie the truth.
But maybe if he met up with this doctor and he turned out to be the real deal, he could tell her a partial truth. Revealing to Ellie that he had killed a lot of Fireflies and Marlene - not to mention one of the last doctors in the world - would most likely not go over so well with the young girl. Although she of course didn't even know Marlene was at the hospital since she was unconscious the whole time. And she might hate him not only for that, but also for taking away her chance at doing something worthwhile with her immunity.
The road curved in between more hills, the ones on the left covered with trees while the ones on the right were sparsely populated. A big sign up ahead indicated that Logan was only ten miles away.
"Mmmm..." Ellie began to stir.
Joel looked into the rear view mirror again and saw her moving around slightly, her eyes opening gradually.
"Mmmphh..." she said groggily, rubbing her left eye. She tried to sit up but decided against it and simply raised her head enough for her to look down at her body. "Ugh.. What the hell am I wearing?" She leaned her head back and blinked slowly.
"Just take it easy. Drugs are still wearin' off," Joel responded, briefly looking back at her over his shoulder.
"Mmm..." She raised her head again, eyes a little more alert as she looked to Joel. "What happened?"
He took his time to respond, thinking long and hard about what he was going to say. Telling her the whole truth was a mistake he was not about to make, but he had to decide quickly what story he was going to give her.
"We found the Fireflies..." he started. "Turns out there's a good chance we can make a cure thanks to your condition. It'll take some time though." He looked in the rear view mirror again. "Unfortunately, the hospital was attacked by a... by a big group of Hunters, so we had to leave. Thankfully, not all of their doctors were in the hospital. We're going to meet up with one o' their best doctors now, and he'll start the process of cookin' up this cure. Alotta good is gonna come o' this, Ellie." Joel swallowed hard. He sounded more confident than he felt.
Ellie didn't say a word while she lay in the back, processing what he had said. Then she shifted onto her side, facing the rear of the car, and went back to sleep.
Joel added quietly, "Best of all, we can finally go home."
Author's notes: If the Last of Us doesn't win Game of the Year, I'd be willing to riot.